The Food Done Right series lasts through the summer. If you need to see the terminology primer, you can upload it to another screen by clicking here.
Industrial meat production wastes and damages a wide swath of our natural resources from waterways to rain forest to the air we breathe. These large farms, which also treat their animals and workers poorly, supply grocery stores, packaged food companies, and restaurants, inundating the market with improperly grown cheap meat. In our society, meat has gone from delicacy and part of the meal to the focal point of the meal. If you dare to question the ways of industrial meat, they might sue you or plant rumors about properly raised animals.
Improper Farming Run Amok
As United States business interests export the American diet to the rest of the world, Earth and human crises approach their breaking point. Fast food chains have inundated the growing economy of China, other Asian outposts, and the Middle East. Industrial meat producers supply them with their meat, the food product these chains push the most. In Japan, adopting fast foods – the restaurant and grocery variety – over the traditional diet has resulted in excessive weight gain in younger populations and an explosion of diabetes cases. The Amazon, which helps protect the world from warming and provides us with novel medicines, has been decimated in great part due to cattle ranching. Factory farming requires a great deal of fossil fuels and water to grow their food animals, which are often mistreated. The industry has grown powerful enough to weaken measures designed to protect consumers. Due to inappropriate feeding procedures, industrial cattle require antibiotics after grains are pumped into their bodies to fatten them up. They are meant to eat grass. The diets these animals are given alter the nutrient balances required for humans to thrive after they eat them, often resulting in the western diseases that plague our society and make us a sickly nation – obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
For many years, I lived within this system, uneducated about how my actions were contributing to our global problems. I ate fast food and at chain restaurants, salivating as my cheaply processed burger or rack of ribs were placed before me. I moved unconsciously through the “this is how it is”-ness of Western existence, thinking that our meat was produced on rolling hills in the shadow of a tidy red barn, unaware of deforestation, cruelty, and excessive waste runoff from industrial farming. I didn’t fathom the scope of industrial farming and the amount of animals placed in one small area. Many of us have no clue about the truth of industrial farming.
Like everyone else, I derided the antics of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). And though one link above contains good information from PETA, I actually believe that group’s extreme histrionics has done more to harm the movement toward revolutionizing the dinner plate than to help it, because people do not enjoy being insulted and shouted down.
As I grew unhealthy and my gut weakened, just like an industrial cow, and as my face broke out and I found myself feeling “down” all the time, I started to address my diet, first eliminating fast food and then chain restaurants. I have reduced the meat portion on my plate and am discerning about purchasing products where I either know the source directly or have written information that verifies proper growing procedures.
The Myth of Consumer Demand
Because new markets are creating new demands for meat, instead of looking at tried and tested methods, such as sustainable organics, Western nations are doing what they do best: moving into a laboratory. Citing consumer demand, meat scientists predict that “meat” grown from animal muscle cells in a cultured medium will someday be on the market.
“Consumer demand,” of course, is a red herring in the whole meat debate, because demand has been trumped up via a generation of advertising and through corporate quests for ever increasing profits without regard to public health. Consumers didn’t demand that two pieces of fried chicken replace the bun for a bacon sandwich. Consumers didn’t demand extra heft to their burgers. Consumers didn’t demand the burger doughnut. Marketers dreamed up these schemes after years of expanding portion sizes underneath our noses, where the old “large” is today’s small. Consumer demand substitutes for “corporate greed.”
The Cow and the Pig
Honoring the animal:
- Cows eat grasses, so make sure you have a grass-fed and grass-finished cow.
- The grass-finished cow ensures that it wasn’t fed irritating grain, corn, or soy feed that creates illness in the cow to fatten it up before slaughter.
- Like chickens, pigs are omnivorous, so the properly raised pig would be provided access with wild areas where he can root around for bugs, plants, grasses, etc.
- Cows and pigs (and goats and sheep) are outdoor animals, so to honor them, we need to offer them field and forest for them to be themselves.
- This site has a chart that shows the difference in the life between industrial farmed and pasture farmed cows.
Honoring the earth is a tight-rope:
- According to farmer Joel Salatin, forage – the greenery of the pasture – is nature’s way of sequestering nitrogen that otherwise would escape into the air. By keeping acreage in mind for pounds of manure, there is a natural remedy to air pollution.
- Furthermore, in the winter, he has his cows feed in an open-walled barn, where the manure collects and he adds fresh tree shavings and hay to the floor, so the cows are comfortable and kept away from their excrement. In the spring time, he has valuable organic compost.
- I have not found a reliable source for water use in pasture-based farming. Salatin mentions that regulations have caused large, immobile cisterns to be erected on some properties that require more water than is necessary. It seems that water use is significantly less than in industrial farming, but might still be an overall concern.
- A recent Australian study illustrated that grass-fed farming creates more greenhouse gases, but failed to take into account forage-sequestration Salatin discusses. Since the study is deeply flawed and suggests erroneously that cows like to digest grain, I have not linked it.
- In conventional farming, well-worn ground that is often dirt or mud (when the cows are allowed out) holds the cows, so no grasses can sequester any gases.
- When rains come in conventional farming, the water takes away the manure, which might have hormones and antibiotics in it, leading to waterway pollution.
- As a solution, lagoons have been used for manure, though they do not necessarily roof them to collect the greenhouse gases that are emitted, nor do they protect groundwater and streams. And they smell horrible!
- It takes up to 12,000 pounds of water – with grain production, housing, lagoons and transportation – to make 1 pound of industrial beef.
The human health benefits of pastured animals:
- The pastured cow has more than three times the amount of fat than the grain-fed cow and a higher proportion of the good fats required for optimal human health.
- Remember, the optimal Omega-6 to Omega-3 balance for quality human health is up to 4-to-one.
- When fed grain in an industrial farming feedlot, the Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio in a cow is about 20-to-1.
- According to the same site above, pastured cows have a ratio of 3-to-1, within the range for optimal human health. Pastured bison come in at 4-to-1.
So, What Can We Do?
“Billions and billions served” comes at a high price to our environment. Industrial farming destroys the planet and our ability to thrive. It also degrades our integrity as earth stewards. Marketing and greed have driven up demand for cheaply produced meat, so what once was a delicacy is now consumed frequently, often more than once daily. This greed has allowed certain factions to grow quite wealthy and exert influence on governments around the world. Those governments put policies into place that protect these highly damaging – to humans, animals, and the planet – operations.
In the ideal world, these highly powerful and damaging operations would be shuttered as being a menace to the world’s health for they offer absolutely no benefit to society on the whole. Letting our government officials know that this is a public safety issue, for they love to claim they are making us safer, is important. Ultimately, I don’t put much faith in elected officials to stop these harmful practices, because they are easily influenced by the deep pockets of industry. The responsibility rests with us to awaken to the reality on our doorstep.
I believe radical transformation is necessary. Industrial farming must disappear and we must aid in its disappearance by making responsible choices. If our own children get into trouble, we redirect their attention. We must redirect our attention in the following ways:
- Restore beef and pork to their status as luxury foods
- Reducing the meat portion on our plate
- Reducing our meat consumption frequency
- Giving up fast food, chain restaurants, pre-packaged meals, and non-pastured animals
- By not purchasing from the cheap and easy providers, they will either change or go out of business, which will enhance physical and environmental health
When zero dollars go to the industrial farming system, the industrial farming system cannot thrive. Diverted monies would go to small, local producers who practice methods that honor nature and human health, or toward non-meat alternatives should people give up meat altogether. This is a choice we all can make using a free will that has atrophied due to corporate control of our lives. Isn’t that exciting?
The world’s lungs and tears, the Amazon, are being hacked away for industrial meat production. We can enact changes now – yes, they will cut into the bottom line of the damaging, profitable operations and industries – so that we can breathe deeply later.
No matter what we do, the global inaction within which we reside today is unsustainable moving forward.
A side note: I consume very little dairy due to my digestion of it. I will not be writing my own piece on dairy, especially with this resource available online: dairy choices are discussed in their series: part one and part two. Also, next week is a period of blogging rest and the series will return in August.